20 Essential Books for Food-Minded Urbanists

by Alexina Cather, MPH
By Samantha Schipani

Many city dwellers yearn to be more connected to their food systems but don’t have the time or opportunity to head out to the farm. From food justice to urban farming, there are a variety of ways for urbanites to get in touch with their roots, however, it can be intimidating to dive into the nuances of producing and distributing food to the concrete jungle. Stocking up on these books is a perfect way to start.

The NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College is excited to share our list of 20 essential books for city slickers with a green thumb and a taste for sustainability just in time for the holidays.

The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities

Author: Peter Ladner

Year: 2011

From the Publisher: “Our reliance on industrial agriculture has resulted in a food supply riddled with hidden environmental, economic and health care costs and beset by rising food prices. With only a handful of corporations responsible for the lion’s share of the food on our supermarket shelves, we are incredibly vulnerable to supply chain disruption. The Urban Food Revolution provides a recipe for community food security based on leading innovations across North America. The author draws on his political and business experience to show that we have all the necessary ingredients to ensure that local, fresh sustainable food is affordable and widely available…The Urban Food Revolution is an essential resource for anyone who has lost confidence in the global industrial food system and wants practical advice on how to join the local food revolution.”

Website: https://www.newsociety.com/Books/U/The-Urban-Food-Revolution

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Books Inc., Indie Bound, New Society Publishers, Powell’s

The Essential Urban Farmer

Author: Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal

Year: 2011

From the Publisher: “The ‘how-to’ guide for a new generation of farmers from the author of Farm City and a leading urban garden educator. In this indispensable guide, Farm City author Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal share their experience as successful urban farmers and provide practical blueprints-complete with rich visual material-for novice and experienced growers looking to bring the principles of ethical food to the city streets. The Essential Urban Farmer guides readers from day one to market day, advising on how to find the perfect site, design a landscape, and cultivate crops. For anyone who has ever grown herbs on windowsills, or tomatoes on fire escapes, this is an invaluable volume with the potential to change our menus, our health, and our cities forever.”

Website: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/306745/the-essential-urban-farmer-by-novella-carpenter-and-willow-rosenthal/9780143118718/

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Books Inc., Indie Bound, Penguin Random House, Powell’s

Agricultural Urbanism

Author: Janine de la Salle and Mark Holland

Year: 2010

From the Publisher: “Awareness of the significant challenges our food supply system faces in the 21st century is growing rapidly. Agricultural Urbanism, rooted in a sustainable food systems approach and written by leaders in the planning and design fields, outlines a powerful strategy for understanding and taking action on the full-scope of sustainable food system opportunities in cities and how we can build them. The book takes sustainable food systems far beyond the community garden and the buying of local food, into strategies for supporting local food processing, wholesale and marketing, education and training programs, as well as celebrating and creating a culture around food, at the same time as ensuring access to healthy food for all. The concept of agricultural urbanism has been declared as the next big movement for New Urbanism in the 21st century as we all grapple with how to make our cities not only more sustainable, but also great places in which to live. This book outlines key strategies to create amazingly magnetic agriculture and food precincts that are unique and special community places where food can be celebrated year-round.”

Website: https://www.libripublishing.co.uk/Products/ProdID=139

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Libri Publishing

The Waste Free Kitchen Handbook

Author: Dana Gunders

Year: 2015

From the Publisher: “Despite a growing awareness of food waste, many well-intentioned home cooks lack the tools to change their habits. This handbook—packed with engaging checklists, simple recipes, practical strategies, and educational infographics—is the ultimate tool for reducing food waste. From a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council come these everyday techniques that call for minimal adjustments of habit, from shopping, portioning, and using a refrigerator properly to simple preservation methods including freezing, pickling, and cellaring. At once a good read and a go-to reference, this handy guide is chock-full of helpful facts and tips, including 20 ‘use-it-up’ recipes and a substantial directory of common foods.”

Website: https://www.danagunders.com/

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Books Inc., Chronicle Books, Indie Bound, Penguin Random House, Powell’s

The Jungle

Author: Upton Sinclair

Year: 1906

From the Publisher: “Upton Sinclair’s unflinching chronicle of crushing poverty and oppression set in Chicago in the early 1900s. A landmark work of social commentary, Sinclair’s work diligently exposes the inhumane and brutal sides of capitalism.”

Website: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Jungle/Upton-Sinclair/Enriched-Classics/9780743487627

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Books Inc., Indie Bound, Penguin Random House, Powell’s

10 Restaurants that Changed America

Author: Paul Freedman

Year: 2016

From the Publisher: “From Delmonico’s to Sylvia’s to Chez Panisse, a daring and original history of dining out in America as told through ten legendary restaurants. Combining a historian’s rigor with a foodie ’s palate, Ten Restaurants That Changed America reveals how the history of our restaurants reflects nothing less than the history of America itself. Whether charting the rise of our love affair with Chinese food through San Francisco’s fabled The Mandarin, evoking the richness of Italian food through Mamma Leone’s, or chronicling the rise and fall of French haute cuisine through Henri Soulé’s Le Pavillon, food historian Paul Freedman uses each restaurant to tell a wider story of race and class, immigration and assimilation. Freedman also treats us to a scintillating history of the then-revolutionary Schrafft’s, a chain of convivial lunch spots that catered to women, and that bygone favorite, Howard Johnson’s, which pioneered midcentury, on-the-road dining, only to be swept aside by McDonald’s. Lavishly designed with more than 100 photographs and images, including original menus, Ten Restaurants That Changed America is a significant and highly entertaining social history.”

Website: https://books.wwnorton.com/books/Ten-Restaurants-That-Changed-America/

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Books Inc., Indie Bound, Powell’s, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century

Author: Dickson Despommier

Year: 2011

From the Publisher: “Imagine a world where every town has their own local food source, grown in the safest way possible, where no drop of water or particle of light is wasted, and where a simple elevator ride can transport you to nature’s grocery store – imagine the world of the vertical farm. When Columbia professor Dickson Despommier set out to solve America’s food, water, and energy crises, he didn’t just think big – he thought up. Despommier’s stroke of genius, the vertical farm, has excited scientists, architects, and politicians around the globe. Now, in this groundbreaking book, Despommier explains how the vertical farm will have an incredible impact on changing the face of this planet for future generations. Despommier takes readers on an incredible journey inside the vertical farm, buildings filled with fruits and vegetables that will provide local food sources for entire cities.”

Website: https://www.verticalfarm.com/

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Books Inc., Indie Bound, Macmillan Publishers, Powell’s

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

Author: Novella Carpenter

Year: 2010

From the Publisher: “Novella Carpenter has always loved cities—the density, the culture, the crowds, the energy, the excitement. But she is also the daughter of back-to-the-land hippies, someone for whom growing her own food has always seemed second nature, if not a near necessity. How on earth would she be able to find a place that allowed her to have both? Is it possible to have a homegrown vegetable plot as well as museums, bars, concerts, and a 24-hour convenience mart mere minutes away? When she visited a slightly ramshackle rundown house in the ghetto of downtown Oakland, her questions were answered. Next door was a weed-choked, garbage-strewn abandoned lot; she closed her eyes and pictured heirloom.”

Website: https://thepenguinpress.com/book/farm-city-the-education-of-an-urban-farmer/

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Books Inc., Indie Bound, Penguin Press, Powell’s

Designing Urban Agriculture: A Complete Guide to the Planning, Construction, Maintenance and Management of Edible Landscapes

Author: April Philips

Year: 2013

From the Publisher: “Designing Urban Agriculture is about the intersection of ecology, design, and community. Showcasing projects and designers from around the world who are forging new paths to the sustainable city through urban agriculture landscapes, it creates a dialogue on the ways to invite food back into the city and pave a path to healthier communities and environments.”

Website: https://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118073835.html

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Indie Bound, Powell’s, Wiley

Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives

Author: Carolyn Steel

Year: 2013

From the Publisher: “Carolyn Steel follows food on its journey – from the land (and sea) to market and supermarket, kitchen to table, waste-dump and back again – exploring the historical roots and the contemporary issues at each stage of food’s cycle. She shows how our lives and our environment are being manipulated but explains how we can change things for the better. Original, inspiring and written with infectious enthusiasm and belief, Hungry City illuminates an issue that is fundamental to us all.”

Website: https://www.hungrycitybook.co.uk/

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million

Food City

Author: CJ Lim

Year: 2014

From the Publisher: “In Food City, a companion piece to Smartcities and Eco-Warriors, innovative architect and urban designer CJ Lim explores the issue of urban transformation and how the creation, storage and distribution of food has been and can again become a construct for the practice of everyday life. Food City investigates the reinstatement of food at the core of national and local governance — how it can be a driver to restructure employment, education, transport, tax, health, culture, communities, and the justice system, re-evaluating how the city functions as a spatial and political entity.”

Website: https://www.routledge.com/Food-City/Lim/p/book/9780415539272

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Books Inc., Indie Bound, Powell’s, Routledge

More Than Just Food

Author: Garrett Broad

Year: 2016

From the Publisher: “The industrial food system has created a crisis in the United States that is characterized by abundant food for privileged citizens and “food deserts” for the historically marginalized. In response, food justice activists based in low-income communities of color have developed community-based solutions, arguing that activities like urban agriculture, nutrition education, and food-related social enterprises can drive systemic social change. Focusing on the work of several food justice groups—including Community Services Unlimited, a South Los Angeles organization founded as the nonprofit arm of the Southern California Black Panther Party—More Than Just Food explores the possibilities and limitations of the community-based approach, offering a networked examination of the food justice movement in the age of the nonprofit industrial complex.”

Website: https://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520287457

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Indie Bound, Penguin Random House, Powell’s, University of California Press

Carrot City: Creating Places for Urban Agriculture

Author: Mark Gorgolweski, June Komisar, and Joe Nasr

Year: 2011

From the Publisher: “Carrot City is a collection of ideas, both conceptual and realized, that use design to enable sustainable food production, helping to reintroduce urban agriculture to our cities. Focusing on the need and desire to grow food within the city to supply food from local sources, the contributions of architecture, landscape design, and urban design are explored. Forty projects demonstrate how the production of food can lead to visually striking and artistically interesting solutions that create community and provide inhabitants with immediate access to fresh, healthful ingredients. The authors show how city planning and architecture that considers food production as a fundamental requirement of design result in more community gardens, greenhouses tucked under raised highways, edible landscapes in front yards in place of resource-devouring lawns, living walls that bring greenery into dense city blocks, and productive green roofs on schools and large apartment blocks that can be tended and harvested by students and residents alike.”

Website: https://www.monacellipress.com/book/?isbn=9781580933117

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Monacelli Press, Powell’s

Your Farm in the City: An Urban Dweller’s Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals

Author: The Gardeners of Seattle Tilth and Lisa Taylor

Year: 2011

From the Publisher: “Intrigued by the local foods movement? Do you love the idea of purchasing all-organic food for yourself and your family, but find the costs to be a giant roadblock? Perhaps a lack of luxurious outdoor space and acreage have you feeling like starting your own garden is an impossible endeavor? Created by Lisa Taylor and the gardeners of Seattle Tilth, Your Farm in the City covers all of the essential information specific to gardening and farming in a city or town. Clear, easy-to-follow instructions guide and inspire even the most inexperienced urbanite in how to grow and harvest all types of produce, flowers, herbs, and trees, as well as how to raise livestock like chickens, ducks, rabbits, goats, and honeybees. Important information particular to gardening in a city or town is included, such as planning and maximizing limited space, building healthy soil, managing irrigation, understanding zoning laws, outwitting urban pests, and being a considerate farming neighbor. With 100 two-color instructional illustrations throughout and dozens of vital resources, Your Farm in the City is the most practical, comprehensive, and easy-to-follow guide to the burgeoning trend of urban farming.”

Website: https://www.seattletilth.org/special_events/yourfarminthecity

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Books Inc., Indie Bound, Powell’s

Public Produce: The New Urban Agriculture

Author: Darrin Nordahl

Year: 2009

From the Publisher: “Plum and pear trees shade park benches in Kamloops, British Columbia. Tomatoes and cucumbers burst forth from planters at City Hall in Provo, Utah. Strawberries and carrots flourish along the sunny sidewalks of a Los Angeles neighborhood.  The idea that public land could be used creatively to grow fresh food for local citizens was beginning to gain traction when Public Produce was first published in 2009, but there were few concrete examples of action. Today, things are different: fruits and vegetables are thriving in parks, plazas, along our streets, and around our civic buildings. This revised edition of Public Produce profiles the many communities and community officials that are rethinking the role of public space in cities, and shows how places as diverse as parking lots and playgrounds can sustain health and happiness through fresh produce. But these efforts produce more than food. Revitalizing urban areas, connecting residents with their neighborhoods, and promoting healthier lifestyles are just a few of the community goods we harvest from growing fruits and vegetables in our public gathering spots. Taking readers from inspiration to implementation, Public Produce is chock full of tantalizing images and hearty lessons for bringing agriculture back into our cities.”

Website: https://islandpress.org/book/public-produce-0

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Island Press, Powell’s

Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs, and Hope on the Urban Frontier

Author: Michael Ableman

Year: 2016

From the Publisher: “Street Farm is the inspirational account of residents in the notorious Low Track in Vancouver, British Columbia―one of the worst urban slums in North America―who joined together to create an urban farm as a means of addressing the chronic problems in their neighborhood. It is a story of recovery, of land and food, of people, and of the power of farming and nourishing others as a way to heal our world and ourselves. During the past seven years, Sole Food Street Farms—now North America’s largest urban farm project—has transformed acres of vacant and contaminated urban land into street farms that grow artisan-quality fruits and vegetables. By providing jobs, agricultural training, and inclusion in a community of farmers and food lovers, the Sole Food project has empowered dozens of individuals with limited resources who are managing addiction and chronic mental health problems. Sole Food’s mission is to encourage small farms in every urban neighborhood so that good food can be accessible to all, and to do so in a manner that allows everyone to participate in the process. In Street Farm, author-photographer-farmer Michael Ableman chronicles the challenges, growth, and success of this groundbreaking project and presents compelling portraits of the neighborhood residents-turned-farmers whose lives have been touched by it. Throughout, he also weaves his philosophy and insights about food and farming, as well as the fundamentals that are the underpinnings of success for both rural farms and urban farms. Street Farm will inspire individuals and communities everywhere by providing a clear vision for combining innovative farming methods with concrete social goals, all of which aim to create healthier and more resilient communities.”

Website: https://www.chelseagreen.com/farm-garden/street-farm

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Books Inc., Indie Bound, Penguin Random House, Powell’s

Feeding Gotham

Author: Gergely Baics

Year: 2016

From the Publisher: “New York City witnessed unparalleled growth in the first half of the nineteenth century, its population rising from thirty thousand people to nearly a million in a matter of decades. Feeding Gotham looks at how America’s first metropolis grappled with the challenge of provisioning its inhabitants. It tells the story of how access to food, once a public good, became a private matter left to free and unregulated markets—and of the profound consequences this had for American living standards and urban development. Taking readers from the early republic to the Civil War, Gergely Baics explores the changing dynamics of urban governance, market forces, and the built environment that defined New Yorkers’ experiences of supplying their households. He paints a vibrant portrait of the public debates that propelled New York from a tightly regulated public market to a free-market system of provisioning, and shows how deregulation had its social costs and benefits. Baics uses cutting-edge GIS mapping techniques to reconstruct New York’s changing food landscapes over half a century, following residents into neighborhood public markets, meat shops, and groceries across the city’s expanding territory. He lays bare how unequal access to adequate and healthy food supplies led to an increasingly differentiated urban environment. A masterful blend of economic, social, and geographic history, Feeding Gotham traces how this highly fragmented geography of food access became a defining and enduring feature of the American city.”

Website: https://press.princeton.edu/titles/10876.html

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Indie Bound, Princeton University Press, Target

Food City: Four Centuries of Food-Making in New York

Author: Joy Santlofer

Year: 2016

From the Publisher: “From the breweries of New Amsterdam to Brooklyn’s Sweet’n Low, a vibrant account of four centuries of food production in New York City. New York is hailed as one of the world’s “food capitals,” but the history of food-making in the city has been mostly lost. Since the establishment of the first Dutch brewery, the commerce and culture of food enriched New York and promoted its influence on America and the world by driving innovations in machinery and transportation, shaping international trade, and feeding sailors and soldiers at war. Immigrant ingenuity re-created Old World flavors and spawned such familiar brands as Thomas’ English Muffins, Hebrew National, Twizzlers, and Ronzoni macaroni. Food historian Joy Santlofer re-creates the texture of everyday life in a growing metropolis, the sound of stampeding cattle, the smell of burning bone for char, and the taste of novelties such as chocolate-covered matzoh and Chiclets. With an eye-opening focus on bread, sugar, drink, and meat, Food City recovers the fruitful tradition behind today’s local brewers and confectioners, recounting how food shaped a city and a nation.”

Website: https://foodcitybook.com/

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Books-a-Million, Books Inc., Harvard University Press, Indie Bound, Powell’s, W. W. Norton

Beyond the Kale: Urban Agriculture and Social Justice Activism in New York City

Author: Kristin Reynolds and Nevin Cohen

Year: 2016

From the Publisher: “Urban agriculture is increasingly considered an important part of creating just and sustainable cities. Yet the benefits that many people attribute to urban agriculture—fresh food, green space, educational opportunities—can mask structural inequities, thereby making political transformation harder to achieve. Realizing social and environmental justice requires moving beyond food production to address deeper issues such as structural racism, gender inequity, and economic disparities. Beyond the Kale argues that urban agricultural projects focused explicitly on dismantling oppressive systems have the greatest potential to achieve substantive social change. Through in-depth interviews and public forums with some of New York City’s most prominent urban agriculture activists and supporters, Kristin Reynolds and Nevin Cohen illustrate how some urban farmers and gardeners not only grow healthy food for their communities but also use their activities and spaces to disrupt the dynamics of power and privilege that perpetuate inequity. Addressing a significant gap in the urban agriculture literature, Beyond the Kale prioritizes the voices of people of color and women—activists and leaders whose strategies have often been underrepresented within the urban agriculture movement—and it examines the roles of scholarship in advancing social justice initiatives.”

Website: https://beyondthekale.org/

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Books-a-Million, Books Inc., Indie Bound, Powell’s, University of Georgia Press

Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems

Author: Philip Ackerman-Leist

Year: 2013

From the Publisher: “Droves of people have turned to local food as a way to retreat from our broken industrial food system. From rural outposts to city streets, they are sowing, growing, selling, and eating food produced close to home—and they are crying out for agricultural reform. All this has made “local food” into everything from a movement buzzword to the newest darling of food trendsters. But now it’s time to take the conversation to the next level. That’s exactly what Philip Ackerman-Leist does in Rebuilding the Foodshed, in which he refocuses the local-food lens on the broad issue of rebuilding regional food systems that can replace the destructive aspects of industrial agriculture, meet food demands affordably and sustainably, and be resilient enough to endure potentially rough times ahead. Changing our foodscapes raises a host of questions. How far away is local? How do you decide the size and geography of a regional foodshed? How do you tackle tough issues that plague food systems large and small—issues like inefficient transportation, high energy demands, and rampant food waste? How do you grow what you need with minimum environmental impact? And how do you create a foodshed that’s resilient enough if fuel grows scarce, weather gets more severe, and traditional supply chains are hampered? Showcasing some of the most promising, replicable models for growing, processing, and distributing sustainably grown food, this book points the reader toward the next stages of the food revolution. It also covers the full landscape of the burgeoning local-food movement, from rural to suburban to urban, and from backyard gardens to large-scale food enterprises.”

Where to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Books Inc., Chelsea Green Publishing, Indie Bound, Powell’s

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